Noting Sarasota County collected $11,377,927 in tourist tax revenue for the 2010-11 fiscal year, County Commission Chairwoman Nora Patterson said last week the figure was the best since the 2006 fiscal year, before the Great Recession began.
“It looks like we’re coming back,” she told her fellow members of the Tourist Development Council during their regular meeting Nov. 17. “I’m sure Dr. Beach had a lot to do with it.”
Patterson’s comments followed a report by Erin Duggan, director of communications for the Sarasota Convention and Visitors Bureau. During an overview of SCVB public relations initiatives and promotions for the 2011 fiscal year, Duggan said the impact of the late-May announcement by Dr. Stephen P. Leatherman of Florida International University, aka Dr. Beach, that Siesta Public Beach was No. 1 in the country was significant.
Duggan’s statistics showed that 406,948,969 people had read about the distinction online; the print total was 3,247,649.
For comparison, Duggan said, news about the No. 1 beach in 2010, Coopers Beach on Long Island, drew 227,647,329 visits online and 1,615,162 in print. However, Duggan pointed out that Long Island residents, unlike those in Sarasota County, had not been eager to publicize the Coopers Beach honor.
Duggan also told the TDC members that the live feed from Siesta Public Beach May 27, when Dr. Beach made his announcement on “The Today Show,” probably reached more than 4 million viewers, according to statistics provided by the show’s producers. The SCVB, she explained, had arranged for a satellite truck to be on the beach for the announcement, because Leatherman had given the office advance notice of his rankings, though he had sworn the SCVB staff to secrecy.
Between 7 a.m. and 1 p.m. May 27, Duggan said, Leatherman did back-to-back media interviews about his announcement.
She initially had been concerned the $40,000 cost of the satellite truck would be prohibitive, Duggan said.
“We didn’t budget for this, because we didn’t know about (the announcement) until about two weeks prior,” she said.
However, she said, Virginia Haley, the SCVB president, had agreed the expense would pay off in publicity.
Additionally, Duggan said, she made sure she was accessible to reporters that weekend, which was right before Memorial Day.
“A lot of what we do is really about just getting (to journalists) what they need,” she said.
“This has more legs than just one year,” TDC Vice Chairman Tony Swain told her.
Although they knew Siesta Key and Sarasota County would reap a lot of publicity this year and next year from the announcement, Duggan said, staff members are concerned about 2013 and beyond.
“We also need to start pushing another beach,” Patterson said. “We have several really gorgeous beaches (in the county).”
In a preview of promotions for 2012, Duggan reported the SCVB had launched a “Searching for Sara” initiative in September. Using Facebook, she said, the SCVB offered individuals named Sara the opportunity to win an all-expenses-paid theme trip to the county. Entrants were asked to choose one of four vacations that best suited their personalities. The categories were eco/adventure/sports, arts/culture/romance, family/attractions/beaches and culinary.
More than 300 people named Sara entered the contest over five weeks, Duggan reported. The SCVB Facebook friends count went up to 19,200, she added. Staff will pick the winners in each category in early December, she said. The SCVB will help them with itineraries for trips to the county; all that is asked of the winners, she said, is that they document their trips through social media.
“Our cost is incredibly minimal,” she added.
One big event coming up in May, Duggan said, will be the Society of American Travel Writers conference in Sarasota. “It (represents) the best of the best (travel) writers,” she said of the organization.
“Wow,” Patterson said. “What a coup.”
The SCVB also is continuing to focus outreach on the Baltimore/Washington, D.C., area, to capitalize on the Baltimore Orioles’ spring training in Sarasota, Duggan said, and it is planning an agritourism/farm-to-table dining promotion.
When Patterson asked about the impact on tourism of the Ringling International Arts Festival, Duggan said the event had brought a lot of notice to the county.
“I think it gives us credibility, too,” she said, because of the involvement of international ballet star Mikhail Baryshnikov.
“I think it’s really important that it continue to build,” Patterson said, adding that the festival no longer required tax money for support.
Haley told the board Duggan’s budget had increased about 10 percent from the 2010 fiscal year to the 2011 fiscal year, though she did not have the exact figures. She promised to send those to the TDC members.